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More ups than downs in women representation in parliaments

Mar 17, 2013

The year 2012 was a year of overall continued progress as far as women representation in parliaments is concerned. The global average of women in parliaments is now at 20.3 per cent, up from 19.5 per cent in 2011. This represents a gain of 5.3 per cent points in 10 years, says the latest report by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

33 lower houses of parliament had 30 per cent or more women MPs by the end of 2012. This is more than triple the number 10 years ago and is up from 30 lower houses in 2011, says the report Women in Parliament 2012. There were also fewer parliaments at the other end of the scale: 40 lower houses have less than 10 per cent women in their ranks, compared with 69 ten years ago and 46 in 2011.

While there has been a huge change across the world, it has not been as hunky-dory for Indian women politicians as data from the IPU suggests. Women representation in the Indian Parliament’s upper house is worse than its neighbor, Pakistan.

India has a women representation of 10.6 per cent, whereas for Pakistan it is 16.3 per cent. A list on the website of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPR) also reveals that India lags far behind many countries, including neighbours Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, when it comes to women's participation in politics.

With 5.3 per cent women in its Parliament, Sri Lanka has the least number of women in its law-making.

Nepal and Bangladesh, particularly have a better record than India’s. Nepal’s constituent assembly has 33.2 per cent of women and Bangladesh has 18.6 per cent, India’s Minister for Women and Child Development, Krishna Tirath informed Parliament earlier this week.

The minister said: "The government of India regularly conducts awareness generation programmes and publicity campaigns on rights of women, including gender sensitization through workshops, fairs, cultural programmes, seminars and training programmes."

The minister spoke of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) that regularly advertises in the print and electronic media to create awareness in this regard.

Recently, UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet reiterated the urgent need to advance women’s political participation and leadership to increase women’s participation and decision-making in peacemaking and peace-building, and support national plans and budgets to advance gender equality.

“Every country deserves to have the best possible leader and that means that women have to be given a chance to compete. If they’re never allowed to compete in the electoral process then the countries are really robbing themselves of a great deal of talent,” said Madeleine K. Albright, Chairman of National Democratic Institute.

Overall six lower houses and one upper house did not include any women by the end of 2012, a total which has not changed since 2011. These parliaments were mainly in the two regions with the lowest representation of women: the Arab States and the Pacific and include Haiti, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Vanuatu.

In Asia, women became the focus of elections when Park Geun-Hye became the first woman President of the Republic of Korea, and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi won a by election in Myanmar.

Some Arab States seemed to be acting for a change. Ten years ago, women in the Arab region held a mere 5.7 per cent of all parliamentary seats. By the end of 2012, this figure had jumped significantly to 13.2 per cent. A clear sign of continuing positive change in this region was the appointment in early 2013 of 30 women (20 per cent) to the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, a first for the conservative Gulf kingdom.

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